Mollie Hughes on discovering Scotland’s lochs, rivers and beaches

Three years later, she continued the amazing feat with another record, becoming the youngest woman to ski alone to the South Pole after a 58-day trek in temperatures as low as -45C.

With a wealth of first-hand adventure experience, she says “Scotland can and should be a Mecca for outdoor adventures in Europe.”

Now the Edinburgh-based 32-year-old has focused her energies on highlighting the opportunities for outdoor exploration that Scotland’s waters offer.

From paddleboarding and sea kayaking to wild swimming, her book Blue Scotland covers rivers, lochs, canals and beaches in every corner of the country.

“You have to be inspired to go anywhere,” says Hughes. “You have to open your eyes to what is there. A lot of people don’t know anyone who has been to the Outer Hebrides for example, they may not have been told it’s not something that was on their radar.

HeraldScotland: Mollie Hughes paddleboarding on the River Clyde at sunrise.Mollie Hughes paddleboarding on the River Clyde at sunrise. (Image: Rachel Keenan)

READ MORE: The must-see Scottish lochs through the eyes of the Victorians

Just months after her lonely and grueling journey to the southernmost part of the world in January 2020, the explorer faced a lockdown “away from big open spaces that I love so much.”

“I felt like I was craving something when I was stuck inside,” she says. “I realized that they were blue areas.”

The book, which covers 65 different locations from rivers in cities to some of the most remote parts of Scotland, “was born out of a need to be in those places” when Hughes was unable to leave the capital due to Covid-19 restrictions.

She adds: “As soon as we were allowed to travel, literally the week that we were allowed to get out of that five mile radius that we had, we hit the road and got started.

“It has been evident across the outdoor industry that post lockdown so many people have gone out and bought hiking boots or paddleboards or just felt the need to get out into nature.

“I think it’s great, super refreshing that people are finally realizing it’s something we need.”


While not everyone would be able to recreate some of Mollie Hughes’ expeditions, everyone in Scotland, both residents and visitors, can take advantage of the close proximity to the water. Blue Health, the idea that being close to blue spaces promotes both mental health and physical well-being, is at the heart of this concept.

“It kind of clicked,” she says. “There are all sorts of blue health studies out there these days that I wasn’t really aware of until I started writing the book. Whenever I was stressed or needed a break, I have always been drawn to the beach and the sea.

“It’s amazing that people are now embracing it because it’s out there, it’s free, and it’s all around us — if we can use it for our mental health, that’s great.” It’s also been a transition into activities that having fun in the moment rather than after the “suffering” was over.

READ MORE: Record-breaking climber joins East Lothian-based adventure company Ocean Vertical

Hughes explains the difference between her previous expeditions and explorations of the country that has been her home for the past nine years: “There was a lot of suffering on the expeditions I’ve done.

“When I was alone in Antarctica for 58 days, she just suffered day after day. It was great to be there. I’m humbled that I was able to see and experience it, but it’s not a pleasure. What I do in Scotland, I do for myself.”

From the excitement of catching a good wave while surfing to seeing a seal up close on a paddleboard, it’s “all fun,” she explains.

Hughes and photographer Rachel Keenan spent eight months planning adventures around other commitments, visiting locations from St Kilda to the River Clyde in central Glasgow.

However, the list first had to be brought down from the ambitious 150 to the final 65.

“I wanted a good mix between those that are easily accessible – those that people do when they are just starting to swim or paddle. But I also wanted big bucket list adventures. Some of them, like Loch A’an [in the Cairngorms]were huge – it was almost a mountaineering expedition to get to the hole.”

HeraldScotland: Mollie Hughes in Loch A'anMollie Hughes in Loch A’an (Image: Rachel Keenan)

READ MORE: ‘A landscape in transition’: How climate change is threatening Scotland’s camouflaged animals

That’s one of the reasons it’s important to be a ‘well-rounded adventurer’ in Scotland, but it also helps to take advantage of the ‘fickle’ weather.

“If you want to go to a specific beach, one day it can be flat and calm and great for paddling, the next day there might be a bit more waves, some waves coming in so it’s good for surfing. I think incorporating all these different sports and understanding and being proficient at all of them gives you so many more opportunities for adventure in Scotland.”

Still, the duo saw sunshine and blue skies almost “every time we pulled the camera” during their eight-month journey through Scotland. The adventurer suggests that “Scotland has a bad reputation for its weather” which “can be great”.

With such a range of activities available, the title of adventurer’s mecca could be achieved with just a “nudge and investment from people who vacation here to do outdoor activities,” says the author.

The “best places” to do this are led by “incredible” community initiatives that know what their region needs to grow. She adds: “There’s a good place on Harris called Huisinis; it’s a community run center that they set up. “They raised the money, they built all this infrastructure, like toilet blocks, shower blocks, this big kind of viewing room that overlooks the whole beach.”

Ms. Hughes has no major expeditions on her agenda at the moment and her focus is “definitely a little more home”.

“Since I’ve been back from Antarctica, I’ve felt a little more comfortable here,” she says. “The book probably helped with that. I think lockdown was the time to change your focus a bit.

“I had focused so much on foreign countries, but actually [I am] realizing that everything I wanted or could have for a while is right on my doorstep here in this country.” Mollie Hughes on discovering Scotland’s lochs, rivers and beaches

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